Bayreuther Festspiele

Götterdämmerung at the Bayreuther Festpiele

Goetterdaemmerung-2013* Notes * 
The second cycle of the Frank Castorf's new Der Ring des Nibelungen at Bayreuth ended with Götterdämmerung on Monday. The proceedings were somewhat less nonsensical than the Siegfried, at least there were no gunshots interrupting the music. The turning set included döner kabob and produce stands, two different sets of stairs, a neon sign for "Plaste und Elaste Werk in Schokpau," and a classical building wrapped up by a very large sheet, which turns out to be the New York Stock Exchange. With so many different venues, one would think it would be possible to knock out the five scenes in the first third of the piece, yet somehow Castorf proves incompetent, and has to bring down the curtain before the Waltraute's appearance. At least Act I Scene 3 has the sisters singing to one another and acting as human sisters would.

Unfortunately, this does not hold for much of the rest of the staging. A pram filled with potatoes is thrown down a flight of stairs, creating a great deal of noise for no real dramatic reason. The long-suffering supernumerary who has played shopkeeper, bear, and waiter throughout the four operas is punched in the nose early in the Götterdämmerung, appears in a bridal veil and heels in the potato pram scene, and is later run over by the Rheintöchter. The various video clips shown are simply distracting, and after enduring so many hours of this production, I gave up trying to make sense of what was being shown on the screens and stopped looking at them.

Thankfully, Kirill Petrenko conducted a vibrant and buoyant orchestra. Again, the harps sound wonderful, as do the low strings. The principal horn did not sound confident, but the trumpets played remarkably well. The clarity of the orchestra supported the singers and did not overwhelm them. The chorus was also brilliant, the members singing with each other as if they were one being.

Of the three Norns, Christiane Kohl (Third Norn) was weakest, her voice is not adequately supported. Okka von der Damerau was strong as both First Norn and Floßhilde. Claudia Mahnke sounded beautifully legato as both Second Norn and Waltraute. Mirella Hagen (Woglinde) and Julia Rutigliano (Wellgunde) were lovely. Allison Oakes made for a pretty Gutrun and Alejandro Marco-Buhrmester was a fine Gunther. Martin Winkler made for a powerful Alberich. Attila Jun was brash as Hagen. Lance Ryan's Siegfried again was inconsistent. Sometimes he sounded perfectly good, and other times it was as if he were yodeling. Catherine Foster has nice high notes as Brünnhilde, but her lower range is less resonant.

* Tattling * 
The man to my right rolled up the legs of his tuxedo, as it was a bit warm in the house. He fell asleep a few times during Act I. There was some booing at the very end of the ovation, presumably for the production.

Siegfried at the Bayreuther Festpiele

Siegfried-2013 * Notes * 
A second performance of the new Siegfried at Bayreuth was held on Saturday. It seems that Frank Castorf put more time into this opera than the previous two of Der Ring des Nibulungen, and the results are unfortunate. The action is set at Bahnhof Alexanderplatz in Berlin and an alternate version of Mount Rushmore with depictions of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. These settings are very specific, so using them to represent different scenes is problematic. On the positive side, the projections are fairly subdued. Showing backstage before Erda's entrance is engaging and less irrelevant than much of what we have seen in previously.

None of the characters seem to act in human ways, their movements are rarely motivated by anything in the libretto or on the stage. More than one of the singers climbs the stage right stairs to touch Marx's mustache. The staging is also very noisy, Siegfried throws lawn furniture and books, Mime cuts carrots as loudly as possible. The worst part is when Siegfried shoots Fafner with a machine gun. This Siegfried is a brutish, violent lout, so it is hard to see why the showgirl Waldvogel is so taken with him, much less Brünnhilde.

Kirill Petrenko continues to conduct the orchestra with a translucency and lightness. The harps sound particularly gorgeous. The horn solo in Act II was strangely vulnerable. The balance between orchestra and singers remained fine.

Mirella Hagen is a charming Waldvogel, gamely flitting about the stage in her clumsily enormous costume. Her voice is markedly bird-like. She is inexplicably eaten by a crocodile at the end of the opera. Nadine Weissmann (Erda) sounded unearthly. Sorin Coliban threatened as Fafner. Martin Winkler's Alberich has a differentiated sound from Wolfgang Koch's Der Wanderer. Koch sang with mastery and beauty. Burkhard Ulrich sounded bright as Mime, his German was particularly easy to understand. As Brünnhilde, Catherine Foster floated her opening notes hailing the sun, light, and day. Lance Ryan (Siegfried) was inconsistent and not terribly secure. He did sing the line "So starb meine Mutter an mir?" with particular tenderness.

* Tattling * 
There was strong booing for the production at the end of each act and when the principals took a bow on the set after the opera.

Die Walküre at the Bayreuther Festpiele

Walkuere-2013* Notes * 
Frank Castorf's new Der Ring des Nibelungen continued with Die Walküre at Bayreuth last night. The production continues to be dramatically vacuous. The set looked to be a large barn situated in Azerbaijan, which did transform into an oil derrick for Acts II and III. The live video captures are distracting, at times blocking the action, only to show mediated versions of what they are covering. Some of the prerecorded parts are rather nonsensical, near the end of Act I, there is a short film depicting a woman messily eating cake. The woman answers the telephone and then sets it down on the cake, then tries on a sleeveless dress, only putting one of her arms through an armhole before returning to her cake and telephone.

The staging is often overwrought, doors are opened, objects brought out, and so forth. There are a lot of unnecessary props, such as the giant pumpjack that extends over the edge of the stage in Act III. The effect is creepy, but has little else to do with anything else happening in the production at that moment, much less in the libretto. Oddly though there is not a lot for the singers to do while they are singing, often they just stand and are ignored by the other characters.

The orchestra continued to float lucidly under the direction of Kirill Petrenko. The brass was not completely translucent at all times, but for the most part sounded lovely. There were no obvious errors as with the previous night. The string soli were radiant. The sound of the singing was not swallowed up by the playing.

The Walküren made a fine effort, some were easier to hear than others. Franz-Josef Selig sounded robust as Hunding. Claudia Mahnke was an effective Fricka. Catherine Foster's Brünnhilde has a wonderful lightness, she did not bear down on her voice or scream her notes. Wolfgang Koch sang Wotan with nuance and color, despite the production. Johan Botha sounded utterly secure as Siegmund, never straining. Anja Kampe (Sieglinde) was the obvious audience favorite, her brilliant, searing voice did not disappoint.

* Tattling * 
In short, everyone was better-behaved for this second performance of Der Ring. The woman who thought I was in her seat the night before greeted us in a conciliatory manner on Thursday. She brought her daughter to Walküre, and they were fairly still and quiet. The woman in Orchestra Left Row 20 Seat 26 who talked a lot also brought a different person to the opera, and they whispered but not that much.

Rheingold at the Bayreuther Festspiele

Rheingold-2013* Notes * 
The second cycle of Frank Castorf's Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Bayreuther Festspiele opened yesterday with Das Rheingold. The production is a hodgepodge of Americana that does not give the characters any place to go. The action takes place at a Texan motel and gas station, all carefully arranged on a turntable. An electronic billboard above shows both live video capture and prerecorded footage.

It was impressive how well-coordinated the performance is, but often the characters act in completely irrational ways that have nothing to do with the opera or even normal human behavior. For instance, Nibelheim is depicted as an Airstream that is dragged into the gas station by stagehands. At the top of Scene 3, Wotan and Loge have taken Alberich and Mime hostage, and tied them to posts. This is completely against the text, and makes the rest of the scene unnecessary. There are also no vocal Nibelungen, and thus part of the score is missing, as their cries and screams simply were absent.

Kirill Petrenko conducted the orchestra with a beautiful lightness. Maestro Petrenko perhaps does not instill the same sort of fear as Christian Thielemann does, and an obvious brass error was heard in Scene 4 before Fafner, Fasolt, and Freia enter. Nevertheless, the music sounded palpably fresh and dazzling. The orchestra only rarely overwhelmed the singers.

Singing is fine. The smaller roles are not terribly strong, Oleksandr Pushniak (Donner) was wheezy, while Lothar Odinius (Froh) and Burkhard Ulrich (Mime) were fairly nondescript. However, all three acted splendidly. Pushniak twirled his mustache in a charming way. Ulrich was endearing when he found that the Airstream was all his, and not only started maniacally polishing it, but cheerfully switched out the Confederate flag of the motel with a rainbow one. Mirella Hagen (Woglinde), Julia Rutigliano (Wellgunde), and Okka von der Damerau (Floßhilde) looked rather listless as the Rheintöchter but sounded pretty. The Riesen are cast distinctly, Sorin Coliban's Fafner is grumbly, while Günther Groissböck's Fasolt is almost sweet. Nadine Weissmann made for an ethereal Erda, her sound is delicate yet not too quiet. Elisabet Strid (Freia) had a much more muscular voice. Claudia Mahnke was a bit breathy as Fricka, but her voice is neither shrill nor strident.

Norbert Ernst was a unctuous enough Loge, with a nice voice. There was a little strain in his higher notes, but his acting made up for this. For me, the weakest link was Martin Winkler, whose vibrato I find disagreeable. His Alberich is made to be extremely puerile, which does not do him any favors. His voice sounds more than passable when the his music is not highly orchestrated, but does not have the brightness to cut through when it is. Wolfgang Koch, on the other hand, is an excellent Wotan. He sings with effortlessness, power, and warmth.

* Tattling *
This was the worst-behaved audience of my time in Bayreuth so far. There was an electronic sound at the beginning of the first scene. Talking was heard during the music irrespective of singing. I hushed the loud couple in Orchestra Left Row 20 Seats 25 and 26, and thankfully they whispered instead for the rest of the opera. Gallingly, the female half of the couple screamed "Bravo" at singers she had not been fully listening to.

An uptight German-speaking couple (possibly mother and son) in Orchestra Right Row 21 Seats 27 and 28 were convinced I was in one of their seats despite the fact that my ticket clearly shows that I am in Orchestra Left Row 21 Seat 27. I tried to gently remind them that 27 comes after 28, and that logically Orchestra Right Seat 27 would be to the right of Seat 28. They remained doubtful, talking to the usher on the right side of the house, then harassing a grey-haired East Asian couple, oblivious to the fact that they were not me and Axel Feldheim. By the time they made it back to the middle of the row, they refused to believe me, my companion, or the kindly person in Orchestra Left Row 21 Seat 25 that they were in the wrong.

The son demanded that we speak to the usher on the left side of Row 21, so we made everyone on the left side of the row get up to let us through. Finally, the usher explained that 27 comes before 28, so the pair's other seat is to the right of 28, since their tickets clearly read "Parkett Rechts." We marched back to the middle of the row, inconveniencing 25 people yet again. When the high-strung man explained to his mother that they were mistaken, she shooed away the European-looking (but evidently not German-speaking) man in her seat, even taking his seat cushion and sort of pushing it at him. After all this, these two did not even apologize for their various rude blunders. At least they were very quiet, the man hardly shifted in his seat, and managed not to elbow me even once.

Holländer at the Bayreuther Festspiele

Hollaender-2013* Notes * 
Bayreuther Festspiele's Der fliegende Holländer had a fourth performance this season yesterday evening. Christian Thielemann conducted the orchestra with precise control and intimidating intensity. The brass had a perfect clarity. The woodwinds played vividly. The chorus shone once again, singing robustly and moving persuasively. The singers were synchronized in every way.

The Act I set is rather dizzying with flashing lighted lines and numbers on two giant curved walls. It is odd that Der Steurmann and Daland are in a row boat, when the rest of the staging indicates they were businessmen at an exchange or commodity market of some kind. The scene changes are seamless, and it is particularly stunning when the Act I walls came apart while the male chorus walks from upstage all the way downstage with the Act II room following them. As far as the production goes, Acts II and III make few references to seafaring or spinning or anything else in the libretto. Nevertheless, director Jan Philipp Gloger's narrative on capitalism is clear and hangs together well. The pyrotechnics are especially spectacular.

Singing was fairly good. Benjamin Bruns (Der Steuermann) and Christa Mayer (Mary) made serviceable contributions to the proceedings. Tomislav Muzek was a sympathetic Erik. Franz-Josef Selig was a warm, paternal Daland. Ricarda Merbeth sang Senta with a lot of force. Intonation did not seem a primary concern for her. Samuel Youn was a very pleasant Holländer, and could have been much more menacing. His voice is pretty.

* Tattling *
A couple in Row 21 on the left side had the audacity to speak during the terrifying overture, but were silenced right away with one hushing. Someone loathed the two principals and booed them at full volume during their curtain calls.

Tannhäuser at the Bayreuther Festspiele

Tannhaeuser-2013* Notes * 
The current production of the Bayreuther Festspiele's Tannhäuser is unsatisfying. Sebastian Baumgarten directed a busy and tedious staging, relying on lots of projected text. There were also giant stuffed animal-like rays, menacing ape people, and assorted funny characters. The set, with its multiple levels, could have been used much more cunningly, but instead blocked the back projections. All of the singers showed a deep commitment to the direction, but the many unconnected ideas never cohered. The action did not go with the music in any way, and in the end, the spectator was left bored.

The orchestra was lead by Axel Kober, whose tempi were measured. Although not bad, the playing lacked sensuousness. On the other hand, the chorus sounded great. The most formidable part of the evening was certainly the end, where the set was put to best effect with chorus members on different stories. The volume alone was quite impressive.

Singing was the redeeming factor in the performance on Tuesday night. Katja Stuber (Ein junger Hirt) was exacting in her choreography as some sort of drunken hoodlum, and yet sounded brilliant and unreal. Günther Groissböck was a commanding Landgraf Hermann, his voice has a lovely richness. Michelle Breedt may not have been the most alluring Venus, but sang with power.

Camilla Nylund (Elisabeth) was occasionally shrill, though has a certain vulnerable quality that is appealing. Michael Nagy did a beautiful job with Wolfram von Eschenbach. His "O du, mein holder Abendstern" was exquisite, he sang with sensitivity and warmth. Torsten Kerl was fine in the title role, never pushing his voice too hard, yet always audible.

* Tattling *
Someone tried clapping after the overture and one could feel the disapproval of the other audience members. A grey-haired woman next to me (Row 20 Seat 27 on the right side of the theater) collapsed on me during Act I. I was afraid she was having a seizure, but she had simply fainted from the stuffy heat, and recovered in a few minutes.

Before Act III there was some sort of mass acted on stage, and when some of the audience clapped at the end of this, others booed to express their contrary opinion of the production. Likewise, there was a segment of the audience that was vocal in ridiculing the staging at final ovation, and I was surprised to hear my companion join in, as I have never heard him boo before.

Lohengrin at the Bayreuther Festspiele

Lohengrin-2013 * Notes * 
Last night's performance of Lohengrin at the Bayreuther Festspiele was compelling. The orchestra sounded clear and fresh under the baton of Andris Nelsons, without ever being dull or devoid of passion. The brass was perfectly clear, as did the strings and the woodwinds. Nelsons also struck a fine balance between the instrumentalists and singers, and only rarely overwhelmed the latter. The chorus also sounded remarkably beautiful and in unison.

The rest of the singing was even. Samuel Youn has impressive hair as Der Heerrufer des Königs, and sang nicely. Petra Lang was an impassioned and insistent Ortrud. Thomas J. Mayer (Friedrich von Telramund) does not have a particularly rich voice, but was suitably threatening. Wilhelm Schwinghammer was not the most commanding König Heinrich, but gave a satisfactory perforrmance. Annette Dasch made for a sweet-voiced Elsa von Brabant. Klaus Florian sounded bright and pleasantly brassy in the title role, his voice cut through the chorus and orchestra with ease.

The production from Hans Neuenfels certainly appears to have an internal consistency, featuring chorus members dressed as laboratory rats. Said rodents were a skillful combination of cute and creepy. Everyone moved elegantly. At various times the treatment of the swan used taxidermy, bathtubs, and sculpture. It was all entirely entertaining, though it was not clear to me what any of it had to do with Wagner's opera, despite the fact it was all splendidly coordinated with the music.

* Tattling * 
There were scattered whispers when only the orchestra played. The audience laughed when the lab rats did funny things, especially the small pink ones that must have employed child supernumeraries. A couple in front of us in the middle of the twenty-second row read the vocal score.

A very nice couple from Düsseldorf let Axel Feldheim and I practice German with them at our shared table during the second intermission.

Tristan und Isolde at the Bayreuther Festspiele

Bayreuther-tristan * Notes * 
The closing performance of the Bayreuther Festspiele was Friday night's Tristan und Isolde. The orchestra had a full, even tone under the direction of Peter Schneider. However, the volume overwhelmed the singers in many cases. The singing started off roughly for the two principals, at first, Iréne Theorin (Isolde) shrieked flatly and Robert Dean Smith (Tristan) was nearly inaudible. As Brangäne, Michelle Breedt was shrill, and as Kurwenal, Jukka Rasilainen was monochrome. At least Martin Snell (Steuermann) sounded pretty and the chorus sang with vim.

The second act was a definite improvement. Theorin sang on key and blended nicely with Smith. Their duet was lovely. As König Marke, Robert Holl's voice was a grave contrast to Smith's. By the last act, Rasilainen pulled through, singing with emotion and beauty at the end. Smith gave an arresting performance in the first half of Act III, and was only muffled by the orchestra a few times. On the contrary, Theorin's Liebestod was conspiciously less dazzling, though her pianissimo at the beginning was exquisite.

The production from Christoph Marthaler was dull, we started the evening at the top of a building, and made our way down. Anna Viebrock's set involved peeling wallpaper and other signs of decay, and her costumes wended their way through the 20th century. The scenes were often static, but were punctuated with nonsensical movement. Kurwenal wandered around the periphery near the end of Act II and would periodically fall down. All the characters except Tristan and Isolde ended up facing the walls during the Liebestod.

* Tattling * 
The audience murmured, and there was quite a lot of noise before the Liebestod, when more than one person exited the theater. The German man behind me in Row 15 Seat 24 on the right side of the Parkett hovered over me for much of Acts I and II, he touched my hair more than once. During Act III I decided the only way to be comfortable was to simply assert myself, so I sat on the cushion I brought but did not need, and sat as straight as possible. This worked very well. Unfortunately, my companion was less lucky, the American in Row 14 Seat 22 slept through much of the first two acts, but was woken when his cellular phone rang in the middle of Act II. At the second intermission he must have had a good deal of coffee, for I could smell his breath during Act III, as he stared over in our direction. Whilst awake, he elbowed my companion several times and also talked. It was utterly bizarre, he was in some sort of Wagner Society, had the libretto in German, and also extensive notes on all the operas at the Festspiele this year.

There were scattered boos when the curtain came down at the end, presumably for the boring staging and not Theorin.

Und suche dir, Gänser, die Gans!

Bayreuther-parsifal * Notes * 
The final performance of Parsifal at this year's Bayreuther Festspiele was last night. The orchestra sounded fine under Daniele Gatti, and the chorus was absolutely lovely. The singing was good all around, everyone could be heard, even though the production did have the singers far upstage at times. Mihoko Fujimura was utterly terrifying as Kundry, her movements were reptilian and her voice stunning, without a trace of shrillness. Likewise, Thomas Jesatko (Klingsor) acted well and sang adeptly. Diógenes Randes was appropriately grave as Titurel, and Detlef Roth was deeply engaged with his role as Amfortas. Kwangchul Youn's rich, warm tones were welcome in his portrayal of Gurnemanz. In the title role, Christopher Ventris did not fail to impress. He sang with power and very little strain.

Stefan Herheim's production was nauseating, there was just so much going on, lots of movement, many lights and mirrors, and much noise during the music. It seemed that every moment was packed with explanation of not only the plot, but also something about German history in the 20th century. There were many cinematic references from campy musicals to Josef von Sternberg. At the same time, much of the staging felt highly predictable, for instance, the swan that appeared on a shield just above the bed in the middle of Act I was clearly going to be shot by Parsifal, and naturally, it was.

* Tattling * 
The audience was far from silent, there was even yelling during the performance, especially when Nazis appeared on stage. The woman in Row 5 Seat 18 of the Right Parkett must have bathed in perfume, and her poor father had absolutely no idea what was going on with the opera. They were at least less idiotic than the person who took a flash photograph when a mirror was turned toward the audience.

There was some clapping at the end of Act I, which was hushed and hissed at by others. During the last curtain calls there were scattered boos for Gatti, but nothing near the palpable outrage about Die Meistersinger the previous evening.

Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!

Bayreuther-meistersinger * Notes * 
Katharina Wagner's production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Bayreuther Festspiele is simply dumbfounding. From the very beginning it was clear that the person behind the absurd staging was exceedingly detail-oriented and highly neurotic. The concept seemed well thought out and read clearly, and better yet was carried through to the end. The joyousness of the riot at the end of Act II was particularly wonderful. There were shoes falling from the sky; enormous soup cans full of paint; dancing statues of Wagner, Dürer, and others; not to mention plenty of obsessive cleaning.

Sebastian Weigle kept the orchestra moving, though just the slightest bit lax, the playing was still lovely. The chorus, directed by Eberhard Friedrich was entirely committed to both the music and the choreography.

For the most part the singing was perfectly fine, though overall somewhat quiet. Carola Guber was able to convey a certain shrewish annoying quality as Magdalene. Norbert Ernst (David) was pleasantly neurotic, and his pianissimo is appealing. Michaela Kaune could be petulant as Eva, but her singing in the ensemble at the end of Act III Scene 4 was charming. Adrian Eröd amused as Beckmesser, he had a great deal of strain at times in the beginning, but he was a good foil for Klaus Florian Vogt (Walther). Vogt sang with great beauty, sweetness, volume, and effortlessness. On the other hand was our Hans Sachs, Alan Titus, who acted well but lacked both ease and a rich, full tone.

* Tattling * 
A German man in Row 4 Seat 8 on the right side of the Parkett spoke during the music of Act I, and both my companion and I turned around at exactly the same time to give him a stern look. He only spoke once more audibly, when he could not read "Beck in Town" on Beckmesser's t-shirt in Act III. He did press against my companion's seat, and she quite naughtily fondled his knee, which was effective in getting him to stop. The May/December couple in Row 2 Seats 11 and 12 also whispered a good deal, and blocked the view of the woman to my left with their constant movement. The May half of the pair accidentally grabbed my foot when she was trying to adjust her seat cushion.

There was much laughter and murmuring from the audience. I, for one, nearly had a break-down trying to keep my hysterical giggling under control. There were scattered boos at the ends of Act II and III, and very hearty booing for Katharina when she came out for her curtain call.

Götterdämmerung at the Bayreuther Festspiele

Bayreuther-goetterdaemmerung * Notes * 
The Bayreuther Festspiele's last cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen this season concluded with Götterdämmerung last night. Christian Thielemann kept the orchestra under control, and the sound produced was clear and beautiful. The chorus also sounded absolutely gorgeous. The singing was strong for all the smaller roles. The Rheintöchter sounded lovely and alluring. Christiane Kohl (Woglinde), Ulrike Helzel (Wellgunde), and Simone Schröder (Floßhilde) looked oddly winsome, a bit like something out of an Esther Williams film gone awry. The Norns sang with authority: Simone Schröder, Martina Dike, and Edith Haller all had good presence. Edith Haller also sang the role of Gutrune, and her bell-like sound was a fine contrast to Linda Watson's heartier tones. Christa Mayer gave an impassioned performance as Waltraute.

Andrew Shore (Alberich) was impressive in his last scene, pleading but threatening. Hans-Peter König (Hagen) was much beloved by the audience, perhaps because of his full tone and good volume. Ralf Lukas was a bit quiet as Gunther, but he did not strain terribly either. Linda Watson was a stately and dignified Brünnhilde, her lower register is beautifully warm. Christian Franz lacked subtlety in his performance as Siegfried, he remained clownish and childlike. He did have nice moments, especially in his last scene, but there were times too when his voice sounded like it would simply give out.

The production, from Tankred Dorst, grew ever more overwrought. Although one always appreciates poultry with Wagner, perhaps the man with the rooster-head that flapped his arms was a bit too much. Or the woman placing and removing three pairs of goggles from her face, pretending her palm was a mirror, that could have been unnecessary. Still, one was entertained. On the other hand, the girls making out and the female nudity was more distracting, as was all the running about near the end.

* Tattling * 
There was much talking from the German/American couple in Row 10 on the right side of the Parkett, Seats 17 and 18. They and the American to their left were all rather too large for the seating, and their knees were firmly pressed into the seat backs in front of them. At least the music was grand enough that they were easily ignored.

There was audible laughter when Siegfried does not recognize Brünnhilde and tries to shake her hand.

Siegfried at the Bayreuther Festspiele

Bayreuther-siegfried * Notes * 
Siegfried was performed last night as part of the Bayreuther Festspiele. Conductor Christian Thielemann had the orchestra well in hand, there were only the tiniest of brass errors. For the most part, the sound was translucent but full. The singing was solid. Christiane Kohl's keen voice was suitable for the Waldvogel, not exactly beautiful, but effective. Linda Watson's intonation is not always perfect, but her Brünnhilde was sympathetic, one could hear the range of emotions within her voice. Christa Mayer sounded pretty and limpid as Erda, but was perhaps too ethereal. Ain Anger (Fafner) was not frightening at all, neither in his voice or in his movement.

Both Andrew Shore (Alberich) and Albert Dohmen (Wotan) had imposing performances, and their scene together at the beginning of the second act was tremendous. Wolfgang Schmidt was both sycophantic and spiteful as Mime, he could sound warm or gritty depending on the music. Christian Franz sounded much more comfortable as Siegfried here in Bayreuth compared to his performance at the Met earlier this year. He was still quite a thug, childish and silly as far as his acting. However, he did not sound like he was going to crack at any moment, and his voice had a definite brightness. His volume was a tad low until the last act, when he stepped it up. The last scene of the last act was sung with vehemence on both sides.

Tankred Dorst's production continues to amuse. Siegfried's entrance dressed as a bear was funny, as was the dragon, which seemed to consist entirely of smoke, light, and teeth. The choreography for Siegfried in Act I was perhaps too petulant, but he did show a human side after killing Mime. Overall, the characterization of Siegfried was close to convincing.

* Tattling * 
Before the opera even started, we overheard a middle-aged English-speaking man arranging a date with one of the rather young, blond ushers. She seemed understandably bewildered.

There was a distinct electronic noise at the beginning of Act III, and a watch alarm at each hour. At times there were also high-pitched noises coming from hearing aids. Otherwise, people were silent, not laughing at any of the funny bits. A British man in Row 20 of the orchestra level kept shaking my companion's seat with his feet, and was roundly scolded by her after Act I.

Die Walküre at the Bayreuther Festpiele

Bayreuther-walkuere * Notes * 
Bayreuth's Ring cycle continued with Die Walküre last night. Once again, the orchestra sounded lovely under the direction of Christian Thielemann, and the brass was particularly fine. The singing was stronger overall than in Das Rheingold. The Walküren did sang admirably, their voices were well-matched. Michelle Breedt was shrill as Fricka, but her characterization of the role was forceful. Linda Watson (Brünnhilde) had a poor start, her notes were not secure and the piercing quality of her voice is unsettling. Watson did have some lovely moments later on, especially when she did not have to overtax herself to be heard over the orchestra. Eva-Maria Westbroek gave a powerful, yet nuanced performance as Sieglinde. She did gasp a bit in Act I, but otherwise her voice was stunning.

Albert Dohmen (Wotan) sounded more assured in Die Walküre than he did the previous night. He sounds best when the orchestration is less heavy. Wotans Abschied von Brünnhilde und Feuerzauber was particularly moving. Kwangchul Youn looked like cruel, brutish Hunding, but in his voice he sounded more stoic and restrained. His physicality in his sudden death was impressive. Endrik Wottrich also embodied the role of Siegmund, but his voice, though warm and pleasant, lacked radiance. Wottrich was also slightly quiet, especially next to Westbroek.

Tankred Dorst's production has both clever and confusing moments. It was entertaining when Siegmund pulled Notung out of a fallen utility pole, and the set for the last act was formidable. On the other hand, the doubling of Wotan in Act II as he sends Brünnhilde off was rather contrived, and the children chasing a man with a bicycle was simply odd. The costumes were appealing, especially the smart red outfits of the Walküren.

* Tattling * 
Someone had a medical emergency near the end of Act I, Scene 2. There was a terrible choking sound and evidently the person fell unconscious. She had to be carried out of the hall by two men, and a door was unlocked to get her help. The people in her row were reluctant to stand up to let her out, and the performance continued as if nothing had happened.

Das Rheingold at the Bayreuther Festpiele

Regenbogen-feder * Notes * 
The third and last Ring cycle of this year's Bayreuther Festspiele began with Das Rheingold last night. Under Christian Thielemann, the orchestra sounded splendid: the string were brilliant, the harps lovely, and the horns clear. For the most part, the singers could not match this fullness of sound. The voices of Christiane Kohl (Woglinde), Ulrike Helzel (Wellgunde), and Simone Schröder (Floßhilde) blended nicely, though Kohl sounded slightly shrill. Christa Mayer had every note as Erda, and her voice is strong but she lacked a certain visceralness. As Freia, Edith Haller stood out, her voice had about twice as much volume as anyone else on stage and was very bright. Michelle Breedt's Fricka was unsympathetic, she seemed to whine her way through the role, which is reasonable enough, but less than exciting.

Wolfgang Schmidt was a sniveling Mime, cowering under Andrew Shore (Alberich) very convincingly. Shore was perhaps most arresting, his performance was grittily brutal and he practically screamed some of his notes, but he somehow stayed musical throughout. Ain Anger was a tad quiet as Fafner, especially compared to Kwangchul Youn as his brother Fasolt. Youn's voice has a pleasant resonance that Anger's is missing. Arnold Bezuyen was vicious as Loge, his music is often very pretty but there was definite sarcasm that came through. Clemens Bieber (Froh) and Ralf Lukas (Donner) both had slow starts, but improved. Bieber in particular pulled through in the last scene. As Wotan, Albert Dohmen sounded a bit thin and delicate, at times he was difficult to hear.

The production, directed by Tankred Dorst, was inconsistent, though Frank Philipp Schlößmann's sets and Bernd Ernst Skodzig's costumes were fairly attractive. The first scene worked well, the video art depicting the Rhein was almost even chic. It only became slightly overwrought near the end of the scene. Unfortunately, tackiness was in full evidence in the design of Walhall, which looked like something out of a fantasy comic book. Similarly, the huge cobra head used for Alberich's transformation was simply laughable. The random supernumeraries that would walk through in contemporary dress were an interesting idea, at times it was simply confusing. However in Scene 3 it made my breath catch when the upstage was revealed, and the contrast of the modern day person wandering in before that set up that surprise. For the most part the production was very respectful of the music, but at the end Loge writes something about "being only as strong as one is delusional," which was distracting.

* Tattling * 
There was no applause during the music whatsoever and only the tiniest bit of whispering. Some ringing was heard during the first half of Scene 2, to the left of the house. There was also one watch alarm that sounded at 7 and 8. The audience was in a great rush to leave, people stood up to go, but there was a round of curtain calls and for the most part they just stayed to clap some more.